“Thank you, uncle,” I giggled as Abid uncle handed me the cup of cool, refreshing fruit juice, topped with mint and chia seeds, a blessing in the blazing summer.

“It was my turn uncle, I was here first!” Ahmer shouted. I looked towards him with a little infuriation. He always came late and wanted to be the first to have the juice.

I sat on the bench and began drinking the juice. I watched Abid uncle serving all the customers ­—one went, another came, another went and, as always, this continued for the rest of the afternoon.

Abid uncle had been selling juice in our colony for as long as I remember. My dad told that he had been there since before we came to live here, and I first had his juice when I was two years old. Everyone in the neighbourhood was a huge fan of his juices; lemon, apple, watermelon, mixed fruit. Some flavours kept changing with the season, some were all-season, but each one was better than what you could find anywhere else.

He came with his stall on alternate days — Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. On the remaining days, he went to another colony. It was not just the juice which brought us near to him, it’s his truly exuberant and high-spirited nature which made us sit and talk to him for hours.

He had lost his family, his spouse and three kids, his home and all assets in the 1971 Civil War, and gave such accounts of those days that we can’t find it in our history books. Tears come in his eyes whenever he recalled any of his kids. Just he and a sister had survived. He was sad at the fact that Muslims were fighting on both sides and the consequences were just insufferable.

He loved talking about songs too. He told us about old classic singers and urged us to listen to their songs. He had been a local singer at his community in his early teens. Though his deteriorating health didn’t allow him to sing so well, he still sang and got lost in the melody.

One sunny Wednesday, when we were at our balconies waiting for the cheapest and tastiest delicacy, Abid uncle didn’t show up. We got perturbed and looked forward to Friday. On Friday, excitement emerged again, but still, Abid uncle was not seen anywhere in the street. The same happened on the following days until it was two whole weeks since Abid uncle hadn’t been seen.

We become anxious. It was obvious that something was wrong. We, the neighbourhood kids, decided to find out where he was and what was going on that he was not able to come to sell juices. We checked out the routes we thought he used to come and go. We asked pedestrians and security guards if they have seen a juice seller somewhere near the colony.

However, no progress could be made. We were very tired and hence sat to rest on a bench. If he has been making an earning here since years, his house would be close to the area. We couldn’t be sure if it is in our colony or not.

We began the search for his house. We listed the possible locations and looked for small settlements. After a tedious struggle of three entire days, we finally found him. It was when we were at a narrow street of small, shabby huts at the backside of one of the lanes. We were walking and calling his name when one of us heard him saying in a faint voice, “I am here, kids!”

“Where have you been, uncle? What happened?” Shahbaz exclaimed. “We have been searching for you everywhere. Why are you looking so frail?” the others asked.

We soon found out that he had injured his leg. He told us that he was returning with his stall when he lost control and fell. It was bandaged with a cloth while his sister, a little younger than him, came with a small vessel and applied some medicine on the leg.

“Kids, I have decided to quit. I am so old and left with little stamina. I can’t push the stall every day on the road,” words full of despair came out from his mouth as he sighed.

We looked at him in a state of panic. This couldn’t happen. We had been craving for the juice. We tried to convince him for a while but understanding his reasons, we finally said a heartbroken goodbye and returned.

“We must look for a way out. How can it happen so easily? Abid uncle has to come,” Ahmer insisted.

“How can we bring him back? There must be a solution,” Babar uttered.

“Why not buy him a stall attached to a bicycle, like the one that the ice cream man uses? The trouble is with his stamina, not his spirit,” Saleem elated us all with this awesome thought.

Definitely, that was a great idea. After consulting our parents, we managed to have a handsome amount collected, all funded from our pocket money savings.

The next day, we asked Saleem’s dad to order it. As we had memorised the way to the uncle’s home, we left the bicycle stall in front of his hut quietly, knocked the door and ran away.

For the next few days we waited eagerly for Abid uncle each afternoon, standing at our balconies, we were very eager to have our favourite juice. At last, after four days, we spotted a bicycle with a colourful stall attached to its back coming from the far end of the street. We all screamed with delight and above the cheer we could hear the familiar ‘ting, ting’ sound of his bell.

We all rushed hurriedly towards the stall. Abid uncle was smiling the brightest smile ever. He looked so different from what we saw the last time.

“May you little souls thrive. Kids, you’ll always be in my prayers. May you achieve success and contentment in all parts of your lives,” Abid uncle smiled warmly as he cleared a bead of tear from his eye.

All the children gathered around him as they eagerly gave their orders, trying to get their glass of juice before the others. That day, Abid uncle gave me and my friends free juice. We all laughed the afternoon away as we enjoyed our favourite juice and Abid uncle’s company.

Published in Dawn, Young World, November 21st, 2020